by Hunter Dawkins

Conditions were meek based on the intensity of the game or maybe the density of the fog outside, but one thing would not be denied Thursday evening:  the Long Beach Boys Basketball Team advances to the quarterfinals of the 5A Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Playoffs after a victory in the second round.  The Bearcats hosted the Brookhaven Panthers, eventually pulling away 79-70.  This gives the Bearcats one game away from earning their first bid for the state championship semifinals in Long Beach history.

“Jackson is the ultimate goal and the fact that we are one game away is awesome,” said Long Beach Boys Basketball Coach Brandon Cobb.  “Our whole mentality this season has been one game at a time and accomplish the task at hand.”

After dominating the Stone County Tomcats 74-54 and winning their first district championship in more than a decade, the Bearcats (24-6) came out fresh and ready to play as Long Beach received a first round bye among 5A classification schools.

Bearcats Guard Khaleb Marks knocked down a 3-point basket to jump on the board following the tip-off.  Long Beach Freshman Guard Malik Handy dropped another 3-point field goal on the next possession with the Bearcats posting an early 15-13 lead after the first period.

With Handy contributing seven points and both teams transitioning the ball quickly, the halftime score was 33-33 tie.

Coming out of the gates, Long Beach went on a 24-19 run where Handy and Marks contributed to 17 of those points.  The score at the end of the third period was 57-52 with a Long Beach lead.

Ole’ Brook Panthers didn’t give up the fight, rallying from ten points down to take the lead with three minutes left.  As it happened most of the game, Handy was fouled and converted four straight points from the charity stripe (free throw line).  The Panthers never took the lead again and Long Beach moved closer to a higher destination.

“Coming into tonight, we knew Brookhaven liked to play very up-tempo, fast paced game, and similar to the way we play,” said Cobb.  “I told my guys before the game, whoever gets the most stops and making transition defense will win.”

Handy led all scorers with 34 points, six 3-point baskets and all 10 free shots converted while Marks had 17 points and three 3-pointers.  Bearcats point guard Anthony Robinson finished with 12 points, including eight free throws.

Long Beach will play at home, the winner of Saturday’s contest between Hattiesburg and Jackson Winfield, next Tuesday at 7pm.  Hattiesburg knocked the Bearcats out of the playoffs last year in the second round of the 5A MHSAA Playoffs.